Giving Thanks and Pressing Ahead

On behalf of everyone at the St. Louis Reconciliation Network (STLRN), we just wanted to pause and say a huge “THANK YOU” to all of the many sponsors and participants who helped make this year’s second annual “Race for Reconciliation” such a fun and wonderful event (see the photo-collage below, based primarily on the expert photography of Bronwyn Voth). Many new cross-cultural relationships were kindled.

To those who weren’t able to join us, it was a delightfully crisp and sunny Saturday morning (September 30) at Tower Grove Park, with about 100 participants (runners, walkers, and volunteers). After the race, medals were given to the top three female and male finishers in each of four age groups. Special awards were presented to our top female (Kellie Julius, 22:01) and top male (Chris Noda, 17:48) finishers. We were also blessed by encouraging remarks from a very distinguished participant and 5K finisher, Mark Mantovani (candidate for St. Louis County Executive).

For all of this we are very appreciative, but we also recognize the immensity of the challenge that still remains before us, in our continuing mission “to heal the broken race relations of the St. Louis region by harnessing the potential collective power of its diverse faith communities.” To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “forgetting what’s behind us and reaching forward to what’s ahead, we press on toward the goal.”

Pursuing our mission has taught us that learning how to live the “multiethnic life” is a key first step in the regional healing process. We have now provided such training (we call it Jn17) to hundreds of participants in churches throughout St. Louis City and County over the past three years. But we’re happy to report that three entirely new “doors of training opportunity” have just opened for us!

The first newly opened door is in St. Charles County, where Assumption Parish (O’Fallon, MO) has just approached us about bringing Jn17 to their parish. This would be our first foray across the Missouri River, and we are excited to be pursuing it.

The second opportunity is with a local middle school, which recently approached us (for the second time, we must confess!) about the possibility of co-developing a new version of Jn17 for a public-school setting. For those familiar with Jn17 (a format suitable only for churches), this is obviously a major challenge and one that we initially resisted. However, we now feel clearly called to pursue this idea – given the tremendous positive impact that such a program could have as it is first prototyped and then propagated throughout St. Louis schools.

The third open door is in Ferguson, where we have been connected with individuals serving on the Neighborhood Policing Steering Committee. Discussions continue on how to best tailor and target a version of the Jn17 training for this community. A generous grant was made specifically to support the Ferguson efforts and we are being mindful to carefully steward these funds for the greatest positive impact in a part of our region that has been through so much.

Please join us in praying that all of these new doors of opportunity will remain open and that STLRN will be empowered to move ahead through each of them – all resulting in important progress in our mission to bring the healing that our region so urgently needs.

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Bringing Shalom to St. Louis

Dave Gustafson (STLRN President)

Shalom. Perhaps the most beautiful word in a beautiful language that was nearly lost to us, Hebrew. It is normally translated as “peace,” but it means much more that. It conveys not only the absence of conflict but a sense of complete wholeness and community, the very state of being that has become so elusive for those of us in St. Louis.

Here at the St. Louis Reconciliation Network (STLRN), we’ve been working for five years on our mission to “heal the broken race relations of the St. Louis region by harnessing the potential collective power of its diverse faith communities.” The next event on our calendar is the second annual “Race for Reconciliation“ to be held in Tower Grove Park on Saturday, September 30.

But this brings me to both an apology and an invitation. On the lunar calendar of our Jewish brothers and sisters, which pre-dates the solar Gregorian calendar by a few millennia, this year’s 30th of September is also the 10th of Tishrei, the holiest of the High Holy Days, Yom Kippur. And not just any Yom Kippur, but one that falls on Shabbat, to make the culturally-insensitive scheduling even a bit more offensive.

So, we sincerely apologize to all of our Jewish neighbors. From a theological perspective, you are our elder brothers and sisters. Those of us who are Christians worship one of your brothers as the promised Messiah, the one who – we believe just like Joseph before him – chose to hide his true identity from his brothers during that first encounter of nearly 2000 years ago.

We at STLRN invite everyone in our community, whether they observe a faith tradition or not, to join our mission to bring Shalom to St. Louis. But this is a special invitation to those who (like me) will be fasting on Yom Kippur to join us at Tower Grove Park that morning, before you head off to services. This region cannot become whole and truly healed without you.

In his comments at Tuesday’s special Interfaith service at Kiener Plaza, Rabbi James Bennett (Congregation Shaare Emeth) quoted the prophet Michah (6:8) and prayed: “It says justice you shall pursue; it does not say you should wait for it. Jews are about to enter the high holy days, a time of reflection, accountability and repentance. For the sin we have committed, the injustice we support, for our inaction, grant us atonement.”

To that, we say: “AMEN!” And to everyone in our community, please join us in this mission to finally bring meaningful change and true healing to our region – the Shalom we all need.

OK, St. Louis, Now What?

Dave Gustafson, President (STLRN)

Everyone here in St. Louis has had a rough few days. Fortunately, last night the pattern was broken of the previous afternoons and early evenings of mostly peaceful protests, immediately followed by late evenings of violence and mayhem. Sadly, the anger that has fueled this destruction largely overshadowed the righteous intent of the vast majority of those gathered.

But what is this “righteous intent,” exactly? To use corporate-speak, what is the ask? It’s quite simple, really. Those of us who understand the times of our day (like the men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32) are seeking an immediate commitment from the City of St. Louis to finally acknowledge and begin eliminating the systemic racism that has so badly distorted its entire justice system – not only in its manner of policing, but especially there.

Does anyone still really doubt the reality of this racism? I could share numerous stories, but a very recent one will do. One of my close friends, who happens to be an African-American pastor about my age (I’m turning 59 in a few days) was stopped on Kingshighway near Waterman this past Friday evening. The only question from the white cop was: “Where did you get this car?”

And we don’t need another Ferguson-Style Commission or White Paper to document the issue. Policy must change now. A great start would be to elevate the status and power of St. Louis’s Civilian Oversight Board, as recommended by the Ethical Society of Police. Given the current administration in DC, no help is likely to come from outside of Missouri. Thus, we need to confess the problems ourselves and begin to address them ourselves. Together. Now.

As for us, here at the St. Louis Reconciliation Network (STLRN), we’re still just a 5-year-old start-up. But we have begun to engage in this work. Our mission is unchanged from our founding: “Heal the broken race relations of the St. Louis region by harnessing the potential collective power of its diverse faith communities.” We began by celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in downtown St. Louis in August 2013. In subsequent years we have focused on our Jn17 small-group training program, based on the excellent book “Multiethnic Conversations.” We’ve now brought this class to hundreds of participants in churches throughout the St. Louis region, beginning in early 2015.

For those looking for a more immediate opportunity to engage in this work, please consider joining us at our second annual “Race for Reconciliation” to be held in Tower Grove Park on Saturday, September 30, at 9 am. It’s open to people of all “paces,” with both a timed 5K race and a “just-for-fun” 1k walk. Kids 12 and under participate for free. Everyone also on Facebook is encouraged to tell their friends by visiting and sharing the Facebook event page. You actually register for the race here. Check-in will begin at 7 am on race day at the Sons of Rest Shelter and will continue through race time at 9 am sharp. We hope to see you there!

In the meantime, please join us in praying and asking for the absence of violence in any of the upcoming protest events, in order that the important work of finally bringing meaningful change to St. Louis can begin as quickly as possible.

A Prayer of Confession of Privilege

by Dave Gustafson (read aloud in St. Louis's CWE Church, 13 August 2017)

Dear Lord God and Heavenly Father, we come before You this morning with heavy hearts over the violence and hatred all around us, but especially what we have witnessed these past days in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The images are especially painful for us here in St. Louis, as we recall and mourn the tragic death of Michael Brown, 3 years ago this week.

Lord, on behalf of myself and many others in this room, I confess the unintentional Sin of Privilege, based on having traits that our society values, such as skin color, upbringing, education, and wealth. And I grieve with Your Son Jesus over the evil fruits it brings: Racism, Division, Hostility, Hatred, and feelings of Superiority. All such Privilege, but especially White Privilege, is a founding principle of our broken socioeconomic systems. As compliant participants in these systems – however unintentional – our thoughts, words, and deeds become every bit as hateful and hurtful as those of the cowardly mobs of White Supremacists gathered in Charlottesville.

Father, we confess this Sin of Privilege to you now and pray that you would give us true hearts of Repentance and Compassion as we embrace all of our dear brothers and sisters who live without such Privilege. For it is they who bear the inescapable and painful weight of this sin every day. And may we all “Get Woke,” just as Isaiah implored Israel so many centuries ago:

Awake! Awake! Shake yourself from the dust! Rise up, o captive Jerusalem!

Father, let an alarm bell ring loudly in our hearts as You wake us from our slumber. Give us ears to hear and eyes to see the Truth – that the time has come for those of us who confess Your Name to openly confront the evils of Privilege, both in society and in our own hearts. Let us be reconciled one to another in love, and care for each other – both within our church and throughout our communities. Amen.

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